There are some things that the previous Focus did well, like drive and handle well; this was especially true in the pant-wettingly good RS. On the looks and sales fronts, the old Focus never really set Australia on fire. The third major iteration of the Focus hopes to change all that.
And on the aesthetic part of the ledger, the new model delivers. Dressed up with large 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, LED driving lights, fog lights that double as parking/turning lights, and black paint that sparkles in the daylight, our top-of-the-range Titanium hatchback managed to convey both athleticism and luxury in one come-hither stare.
The boot is decently sized; lie the split-fold rear seats down, though, and you'll realise that the boot floor has been raised to accommodate a space-saver spare tyre. To compensate, somewhat, the foam surround for the spare wheel features compartments for hiding valuables under the boot floor.
Think VW Golf levels of touchy feely goodness mixed in with more adventurous design and that's basically the new Focus' interior in a nutshell. The dashboard plastics are wonderfully soft and pliable, the switches click with precision, and the leather-trimmed steering wheel, handbrake and gear knob feel suitably aristocratic.
There are still some bum notes, though. For instance, the matte chrome highlights on the steering wheel look great, but reflect the harsh Australian sun distractingly. The piano black on the dashboard looks nice, although it does attract fingerprints and dust readily. While the shiny grey trim around the cabin just looks cheap.
Open the doors at night and the cabin is filled with enough light to make a shopping centre envious. And the instrument dials aren't slathered in the usual shades of white or red, but a rather fetching aqua blue.
Finding a comfortable driving position isn't too difficult as the driver's seat features electric adjustment, and the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and angle. Only the seat bolsters are lined in leather, lumbar adjustment is manual and there's no under-seat storage compartment.
The range-topping Titanium that we drove was fitted with a good number of gadgets and gizmos, but can be optioned up further via a Sports Executive pack that includes xenon headlights, cornering lamps, LED driving lights, adaptive cruise control and tilt/slide sunroof. Standard on all Titaniums is dual-zone climate control air conditioning, heated (but not cooled) front seats, stability and traction control, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and electric-folding mirrors.
As previously mentioned, the dusk-sensing headlights feature xenon bulbs that shine bright blue-tinged light into the darkness. Unfortunately, they don't swivel with the driver's steering inputs to help illuminate corners or bends.
The active cruise control system can not only maintain a constant speed, but also brake for you. This allows the car to slow down on hills and automatically keep a safe, and configurable, distance from the car in front. Unlike some systems fitted to high-end luxury vehicles it won't bring the car to a complete stop.
In lieu of a reversing camera, the Titanium is fitted with an automatic parallel parking system, and parking sensors at both the front and the rear. Compared to the parallel parking system we tried in the Prius, the Ford's is rather hit and miss. Parking spaces generally needed to be 1.5 times the length of the Focus, it would sometimes fail to detect obvious parking spaces, and parking behind hatches or vans would lead to a wheel up on the curb.
Unfortunately, the MyFord Touch entertainment and navigation system that's available in Focuses sold overseas isn't being offered here in Australia. We have a hunch, though, that such a system will be offered when production of Australia-bound Focuses shifts from Germany to Thailand sometime in 2012.
The Sony nine-speaker audio system is good, if not outstanding, for a sub-luxury car. The usual complement of entertainment options is present: analog radio, Bluetooth for hands-free and music streaming, CD, and auxiliary and USB ports. The latter will happily read MP3 and WMA files stored on flash memory drives, but a special cable is required for direct iPod/iPhone connectivity.
A high resolution 4.3-inch screen that's deeply recessed into the top of the dashboard is the audio system's main display, while another high-res display is located in the instrument panel; both feature pleasing, but not distracting, animations. The control system is a little convoluted, as the steering wheel features multiple switches and paddles for volume, track selection and voice commands.
There's also two identical five-way controllers (one each for the left and right spokes), with the controls on the left spoke responsible for the sound system, and those on the right in charge of the trip computer and various car configuration options. A few functions, however, can only be accessed via the dashboard, where there's all manner of shortcut and menu buttons flanking a giant multi-way controller-cum-knob.
The cabin has a commendable hush until, that is, the tyres wrapped around the 18-inch alloy wheels begin to roar when contact is made with the coarse chip roads that are so beloved by our various tiers of government. Even on perfectly smooth bitumen, the voice recognition system suffers from many of the failings we've experienced in previous Fords, namely poor recognition rates and available commands not being able to display on the screen.
On the road
Those same 18-inch alloy wheels add a bit of edge to the Focus' otherwise smooth ride, with the scars that mark Sydney's roads being frequently heard, if not overly felt. The electric power steering system is light at parking speeds and becomes heavier as velocity rises, although once or twice it felt crazily light as we hurl the car around with vigour.
Aside from our odd steering grumble, the Focus is, like its forebears, a car that handles excellently. Body roll is very well controlled and reduced to almost non-existence in the city. When the mood catches, the Focus is capable of eye-popping speeds through corners.
While the 2-litre turbo-diesel engine is smooth and almost petrol-motor quiet, it's best suited to a more relaxed driving style. Despite producing 120kW of power and 340Nm of torque, it's not exactly quick off the mark and the car really isn't going at a decent clip until you hit third gear. Unless the diesel's standard automated dual-clutch transmission is in Sport mode, it's also not very eager to kick down a gear.
The PowerShift-branded Ford transmission is considerably smoother at take off and has lower speeds than the dual-clutch transmissions we've driven in various Volkswagens, Audis and Skodas. This is partially thanks to gear changes that aren't executed at lightning quick speeds. Indeed, we didn't quite twig to a lack of torque converter during our first hour with the car.
The combination of diesel motor and dual-clutch transmission saw the Focus achieve a fuel economy figure of 6.4L/100km on the highway. In the bush this rose to 8.5L/100km, while in the inner city we averaged 10L/100km, and numbers running from 8.8 to 12.7L/100km depending on the traffic. In the suburbs, where the diesel was able to stretch its legs, fuel economy was an impressive 6.7L/100km.
Good looks, inside and out, mixed with an excellent balance of handling and ride make the Focus a sensible choice with personality to burn. A real pity then that navigation and a reversing camera just can't be had at any price.